We all know that Impressionism heralded a new way of painting. Material and technical advancements–metal tubes instead of delicate bladders for holding paint–allowed artists to go wherever they wanted, observing nature on their own terms. This was also a period when color options for an oil painter’s palette increased like never before.
The Impressionists use color distinctively in their oil paintings. Warm golden lights against cool purples and blues are what come to my mind whenever I think of the movement as a whole. This could be as simple as the violets of flowers against warm summer sunlight or as involved as using those deep violets and blues to create atmospheric effects and spatial depth in a scene.
Exaggerating color temperatures and putting cool and warm colors side by side intensifies pigments in a way that is very “Impressionist,” as in Monet’s sunrise and sunset scenes or several of Degas’ ballerina studies. But to make the most of these oil painting techniques and assure that you have depth and light effects while still getting those intense contrasting effects, you have to be mindful of value and temperature.
The other thing about Impressionist oil painting art, which I realized only after a professor pointed it out to me years ago during an oil painting lesson, is that they use a lot of grey or “muddy” colors. Without them, intense colors can turn harsh and garish. Nuance is key in Impressionist colors, and subtlety–using complementary colors while not over-mixing or incorporating too many hues–allows for more lush colors to stand out.
If you are as intrigued by color as I am, as well as form, composition, edges, and narrative, ArtistsNetwork.tv offers a wealth of insightful, instructive information to you, including Flowers in Pastel, a video workshop that has much in common with the Impressionist way of seeing light and color. See how to push color to extremes and pull it back to make an impact. With such guidance, I now know what the colors I work with are capable of and how I can use them with control and expressiveness. I hope it is the same for you!